HL Deb 18 July 1916 vol 22 cc752-3


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I will ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, which has come up to us from another place and is of distinctly practical importance, although for some reason a somewhat facetious colour has been supposed to attach to it. What happened was this. Last year, after the Coalition Government was formed, a measure was introduced entitled the Re-election of Ministers Bill, by which those numerous Ministers who accepted office were exempted from the penalty of securing re-election from their constituents. The principle was generally approved. As the Bill was introduced into another place it covered the whole period between May of last year and the end of the war; but some purists, not desiring, I suppose, to place too much power in the hands of the Executive, moved an Amendment limiting the action of the Bill to the months of May and June of last year, with the result that this further measure has become necessary.

At the same time as that Bill was introduced the Bill constituting the Ministry of Munitions was brought forward, and this latter measure was drafted in the belief that this Ministry, being created only for the period of the war, would enjoy the benefits of the Schedule to the Act of 1867, which exempts certain offices from re-election, without that Schedule being included. Therefore in the Bill which created the Ministry of Munitions, Schedule H of the Representation of the People Act, 1867—which, as your Lordships will remember, was the famous Reform Act introduced by Mr. Disraeli, by the Schedule of which various offices are exempted from the necessity of re-election when transfer is made from one to another—was not included. Consequently the present holder of the office of Minister of Munitions and the present Secretary of State for War both become subject, or would become subject except for this Bill, to re-election.

But there is a third and still more significant case—that of my right hon. and learned friend the Attorney-General. He, it was naturally assumed, having become Solicitor-General when the Coalition Government was formed and therefore having become a Minister in those happy months of May and June, would escape re-election. It appears, however, on close examination that such is not the case, because the benefit of the Re-election of Ministers Act of last year, so to speak, exhausted itself in enabling him to become Solicitor-General. He was not re-elected after his appointment as Solicitor-General, and therefore—it is a strangely technical point—he does not get the benefit of the transfer from the Solicitor-Generalship to the Attorney-Generalship, which he would in ordinary course obtain under the Act of 1867. Consequently he becomes also liable to re-election; and, indeed, he has been for a long time sitting in the House of Commons without being a member of it in the strict sense.

I hope your Lordships will agree to the prompt passage of this Bill. It is clearly not in any sense to the public advantage that these Ministers should be unable to sit in the House or to take part in debate. I trust, therefore, that your Lordships will not only give this Bill a Second Reading to-day but will agree to its passage through all its remaining stages to-morrow, in order that my right hon. friends may be able to be in their places in the other House on Thursday. I shall also, I may mention, ask your Lordships to take the Finance Bill through its remaining stages to-morrow, because for sound financial reasons it is absolutely necessary that it should receive the Royal Assent on that day.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Crewe.)

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Committee negatived, and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.